According to Russian media reports, a Russian Aerospace Forces Su-35S Flanker fighter shot down a Russian Su-30 fighter after entering what was supposed to be a mock dogfight with its 30mm cannon loaded with actual rounds.
“Preliminarily, the cause of the emergency is an accidental hit of a shell in the Su-30 during an exercise. The shot was fired by another aircraft,” Russian media quoted the Russian Ministry of Defence as saying.(Translation via Google Translate)
Unconfirmed accounts of the incident have already begun surfacing on Russian aviation forums, providing some details into the incident. It should be noted that because these accounts are unconfirmed, they should be taken with a grain of salt, but based on the Russian government’s aversion to publishing embarrassing information, these may be all the details we get.
First spotted by The Warzone, these accounts of the incident suggest that the Su-35S was recently on quick reaction alert (QRA) duty, which called for it to be armed with it’s standard loadout of 150 30mm rounds for it Gah-301 cannon. On September 22, the same Su-35S took off to take part in a mock dogfight against another fourth generation fighter, the Su-30. The live ammunition, however, was not removed prior to the exercise, though its air-to-air missiles were.
Russian accounts state that the Su-35S, widely considered to be among the most acrobatic and capable fourth generation fighters on the planet, took position behind the Su-30 and the pilot pressed the trigger to record a simulated kill with the aircraft’s gun camera. However, because the weapon was loaded with live rounds, doing so actually fired the canon, striking the Su-30 and forcing it’s two-man crew to eject.
The aircraft crashed in dense forest in the Northeast of Russia’s Tver region. The crew were later recovered by search and rescue teams and are now listed in “satisfactory” condition.
This isn’t the first time friendly fire has caused the loss of an aircraft during a Russian training operation. In 2015, a Russian MiG-31 Foxhound accidentally shot down its wingman with an air-to-air missile in an incident that the Russian government attempted to cover up for two years.
In another high profile incident that demonstrates Russia’s apparent disregard for safety standards, a Russian KA-52 helicopter participating in Russia’s Zapad war games in 2017 opened fire on a crowd of spectators, causing several injuries and destroying multiple vehicles. The Russian government has also attempted to dismiss this story as propaganda, but footage of the incident soon found its way online.
Russia’s Su-35S is considered by some to be Russia’s most capable fighter platform. While the fifth-generation Su-57 is supposed to be Russia’s premier fighter, it does not currently exist in sufficient numbers to offer any more than a token capability.
The Su-35’s incredible maneuvering sets it apart from other fighters of its generation, largely due to its thrust vector control, or TVC. Thrust vector nozzles allow an aircraft to point the outflow of its jet engine in a direction other than straight back, allowing the aircraft to continue moving in one direction with its nose pointed in another — as one prime example of this technology’s utility in a dogfight.
There are significant drawbacks to this tactic, however, as it tends to scrub an aircraft’s forward momentum, leaving it more vulnerable to attack from other fighters in the area.
None the less, its likely the the Su-35S’ thrust vectoring capabilities helped it to position itself for what would ultimately be a kill shot on the Su-30.